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The Beauty (and the Beast) of Maintenance

Friday, October 05, 2012

I'm a girl who likes to have a plan. Tell me what to do to reach my goals and I'll do it. I'm a good worker bee and I've often applied that work ethic to my weight loss efforts. So why is it that until now, I've never been successful on maintenance? That's something I've given a lot of thought to these past seven months and I think part of the reason is that I never really made maintenance my own--until now.

There are so many different weight loss plans and philosophies about what works best and what's the healthiest out there. And while some of them actually do work and can help people maintain long term, I can't think of one that will work for everyone. I've tried lots of different plans, including some that definitely were not of the sensible variety over the years, but it wasn't until I came upon a program that was both healthy and sustainable according to my preferences and lifestyle that I was able to find lasting success. I've discovered, through many years of trial and error, that there are some things I can happily live with and others that make me so miserable that I just want to chuck the whole thing. These are some of the things I've learned about myself along the way and how they've shaped the plan that's carried me into maintenance:

1) I've come to understand the strengths and weaknesses of my character and follow a plan that appeals to both ends of that spectrum.
I can be very determined and have often lost large amounts of weight in relatively short periods of time. Problem was, that I also always gained it back just as quickly because I was following programs that didn't give me the flexibility to live my life. I love traveling and socializing. If I always have to pass up every drink and every morsel of tasty food that comes my way, there's no way that I'm going to stick with a plan where I have to do that because something's got too many carbs, too much fat, contains ingredients that don't belong to an acceptable list, etc. What I've found that I CAN do is live with a compromise. If I follow my clean and healthy plan 80-90% of the time, I can allow myself to indulge the other 10-20% of the time. I know I have the willpower to stick with what I need to do the majority of the time and giving myself permission to let loose every now and then keeps me motivated to continue without feeling like I'm totally depriving myself. As I was losing, that meant I had a controlled splurge meal once a week. I figured my daily calorie average needed to be around 1,500 for me to lose weight at a pace I was happy with. Rather than eating roughly the same number of calories every day, which can work really well for some, I shaved 150-200 off six days a week to allow for a more liberal seventh. I found that having smaller treats spread throughout the week was often not enough for me. What I needed was one big meal where I could really indulge to keep me from going off program altogether. I did my best to track my splurge meal and was generally able to keep within the calories I had "banked". I follow a similar principle in maintenance; I just have more calories to play with. Basically, I introduced Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde and told them they needed to find a way to live with each other--and so far they have.

2) Certain philosophies and plans will simply never work for me.
Like I said, I've tried many of the trendy plans out there and even incorporate elements of some of them into what I do. But I've come to learn that there are certain things I just can't do. For example, I once tried "carb cycling", which basically meant my meal plan was divided into low, medium and high-carb days. That month, the weight dropped off of me like crazy. Problem was that I was so miserable and had so little energy on the low-carb days that I couldn't keep up with my workouts, had trouble focusing at work and, although I don't have concrete proof that there's a connection, had a relapse of a medical issue that I hadn't dealt with in years, which I believe was do to a nutrient imbalance. Some people told me that I actually didn't take my plan far enough and that I should have tossed the grains altogether to eliminate the nasty side effects I had, but why would I want to put myself through more of the alleged "withdrawal symptoms" I was experiencing when I've come to learn that no food or food group is my enemy? I lost almost all of my weight excluding nothing and my medical stats prove that what I've done has created an environment for optimal health. I need to remind myself of that the next time I'm tempted to try something that goes against the grain of what's been proven to work for me.

3) Appealing to my preferences means that sometimes my life will be a little more complicated.
The last time I did Weight Watchers, members had the option of following two different programs. The first was the previous system of counting points (which basically amounted to calorie counting) with the idea that no food was off-limits. Healthy options were encouraged because they were often low in points values but any food could be incorporated into your plan as long as you could fit it into your daily points (plus ones you could earn for exercise and a weekly bank). The trade off was that you had to weigh, measure and track your food. The other option was called the "Core" plan. On this plan, you could eat unlimited amounts of certain foods, limited amounts of others and none of others that were deemed unsuitable unless you used your weekly bank. The trade off here was that although you generally didn't have to weigh, measure and track, certain foods were generally off limits. I tried both plans and, although I was happy with my weight loss and felt great on the "Core" plan, it wasn't something I felt I could live with long term. On the points system, I knew I could have any kind of food I wanted and that I could really work my plan around my preferences. Although you had some flexibility on the "Core" plan because of your weekly bank, the idea of dipping into that bank so I could have a sandwich that included bread rather than saving it for a real treat seemed absurd to me. In the end, because I had tried both programs, I learned great lessons about what the most nutritious foods for my body were by following the "Core" program and learned how I could balance those choices with less virtuous ones by tracking and accounting for them. While some people find tracking burdensome, it actually makes me feel liberated because I know that I can include a greater variety of food in my diet--I just have to be careful not to overdo it with the unhealthier ones. That means tracking will need to continue to be an important for me even as I become a longer-term maintainer. But if that means I'll enjoy real long-term success for the first time EVER, that's a complication I'm willing to accept.

For me, the real beauty of maintenance is that you can tailor your plan according to what works best for you taking these, and other issues that you find important, into account. As with weight loss, a person can follow any number of different plans and be successful. And, as I've seen on the 'At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance' team, the same is true in maintenance. Our members use a variety of strategies and the common bond is that all of the long termers have found what works best for them. The frustrating thing (or "the beast") for someone who has not found that key yet is that it's often one that can't be found without trial and error. Maybe you'll get lucky and will stumble upon the right plan for you the first time around. Or, if you're like me, it will take you several attempts to get there. But if you keep at it and try to learn more about yourself not only from your successes, but also from your failures, you can and will eventually lose and keep the weight off permanently.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Great blog. Thanks for sharing.
    2045 days ago
    I appreciate your thoughts and insights. I agree that each person needs to find their own "sweet spot" for success.

    Like you, I lost the weight and have now been at a healthy BMI for 2 years without following a "diet" or excluding any foods or food groups. For me, that's what works, and I have incredibly healthy blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels as well.

    2053 days ago
    Good, thoughtful ideas. I'm confident that before too long I'll be needing a maintenance plan. Your insights are helpful.
    2053 days ago
    As you say "there are some things I can happily live with and others that make me so miserable that I just want to chuck the whole thing"

    And yet, what makes one person happy makes another miserable and vice versa. No wonder all the perfect plans out there have such a high rate of failure.

    Each of us unique individuals must find the plan that works for us and that takes time and effort.
    2054 days ago
  • LESLIE871948
    This is a beautiful description of a rational plan for lifetime maintenance. Maybe I love this blog so much because I agree with every point in it? Still, what you said about each individual finding their own way is central to not only weight maintenance but any of the other health behavior changes people make. GREAT blog, glad I found it.
    2054 days ago
  • LESLIE871948
    This is a beautiful description of a rational plan for lifetime maintenance. Maybe I love this blog so much because I agree with every point in it? Still, what you said about each individual finding their own way is central to not only weight maintenance but any of the other health behavior changes people make. GREAT blog, glad I found it.
    2054 days ago
    I love reading your blogs, thanks! (That's why I subscribed.)

    2054 days ago
    Great insight.
    2055 days ago
    Love your blogs. Thoughtful, informative, creative, intelligent............
    Thanks for sharing and putting it all down in such an organized presentation
    2055 days ago
  • BERRY4
    Don't know if you are interested?? The following hit me today as really "saying it like it is"!


    2055 days ago
  • DALID414
    Thanks for explaining the weight watchers plans. My sis is on it and I don't get her lingo. She said she had 21 points left for dinner the other night and I didn't know if that was high or low! I learned its outrageously high.
    2056 days ago
    I completely concur with you; we each need
    to find what works for us. I, too, have
    a splurge meal each week after banking
    calories. I love anticipating this meal.
    This keeps me on track the rest of the week.
    I do not feel a sense of deprivation. And
    for me, that is a big key to the long term
    success of maintenance.

    Another tool I use is to eat for pleasure
    all the time. Do not compromise health
    for pleasure or pleasure for health.
    Even when I am eating lightly, I only
    eat what I really enjoy so each meal is
    truly joyful.
    2056 days ago
    Good stiff. I like to say "Do whatever floats your boat."
    2056 days ago
    I enjoyed your blog. I think you and I have a similar philosophy. I hope I can do as well as you have. emoticon
    2056 days ago
  • GABY1948
    Like all the other comments I have to say I love your blogs! I especially loved the beginning...I found out we are more alike than I thought. I have always been a "worker bee" and said so but never heard anyone else say it! Like you, tell me what to do and I will do it! I also love all the information I learn from you! Keep up the GREAT work. And, please keep sharing your wisdom with us! emoticon emoticon
    2056 days ago
    This is great information. The big takeaways for me are:

    1. It's all so unique. And as we get better and more savvy at internalizing a healthy way of life, we will find the "just right" plan for us, which will probably be a combination of formal plans and what we intuitively learn about our bodies and what works for us emotionally.

    2. I have the same need as you - I need about one meal a week where I can really let loose. The rest of the time I can be super careful and mindful, but about once a week, I want to just eat a lot and not think too much about it. Interestingly, however, my mind wants that, but my body doesn't. What I mean is that when I do indulge, I suffer after with digestive distress, so I've been thinking lately that this strategy may not be a good way to go long term.
    2056 days ago
    I love your blogs! I find so much great informstion and inspiration here.
    2056 days ago
    Hope everyone who touches this blog "Likes" it so it will be a popular blog. Another winner, TJ! You're thoughtful self-analysis is a good lesson on how to keep our heads in the maintenance game.
    2056 days ago
    emoticon emoticon
    Great Blog! Keep Up You Great Work! emoticon emoticon
    2056 days ago
  • AUNTB63
    Inspired by your blog. For me being on maintenance has had it's ups and downs. I know I will find that balance I am looking for. So far I found that I need to keep my fitness routine to 5-6 days a week. I still weigh/measure foods 90% of the time....I think this is just out of habit. Life is good. Have a great weekend.
    2056 days ago
  • TGILBERT1364
    Thank you so much for this blog! You definitely nailed it! I agree totally that maintenance needs to be thought about through the whole weight loss process, not just the "end".
    2056 days ago
    @TINA - lots of good points here. One thing that makes weight loss "easy" is that the plan is clear. Executing a weight loss plan is harder. As you state, maintenance doesn't necessarily have a clear cut plan. Fighting the murkiness is most of the battle. Now that I've found my way (which as you state, is not necessarily anyone else's way), I know what I gotta do and it's relatively easy. Now I'm looking into how to keep this up into a very old age. They say a-holes live longer, so at this rate, I think I'll live past 100.

    @WENDY - low carbs do not cause depression, however, carbs can increase dopamine and seratonin levels. It could potentially alleviate symptoms of mild depression, but I cannot find evidence of low carb diets CAUSING depression.
    2056 days ago
  • KANOE10
    You have found your key to successful maintenance. It does take exeperimenting and learning what works for you. As you said everyone has different approaches.

    2056 days ago
  • WENDY19861
    You said you were miserable on low-carb days. I've read somewhere that low carbs can cause depression. Not sure if there is any scientific evidence to back that up, but I know when I am depressed I crave carbs like there is no tomorrow!
    2056 days ago
    once again, you've nailed it with this blog. just *thinking* about maintenance, making it something to be addressed, recognizing that it exists, is something that never crossed my mind before this time that i've lost weight, and keeping it in in the front of awareness, that it is something to be dealt with, makes all the difference. emoticon
    2056 days ago
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